Sunday, April 24, 2011

There they will see me

First Scripture Lesson: Matthew 27: 62-66, page 33
The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember what the impostor said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’
Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘he has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception would be worse than the first.”
Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.”
So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.
Second Scripture Lesson: Matthew 28: 1-10, page 33
After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightening, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”
So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Our first scripture lesson has helped me to see something I’ve never really thought of before – that the Pharisees gathered before Pilate worried that the disciples would go and steal the body, and then tell everyone that Christ had risen from the dead, bringing credibility to Jesus’ claims that “after three days I will rise again.”
It amazes me that the Pharisees were worried about that – as though convincing people that Jesus had risen from the dead were so simple.
Today is the most important day of the Christian Calendar as today we celebrate Christ’s victory over death, but today also brings with it one of the most challenging faith claims Christianity has to offer.
Any rational person can read through the Gospels and see that Christ was a wise teacher worthy of admiration, worthy even for so many of the great thinkers of human history to follow. Thomas Jefferson is known to have admired Christ and his teachings, and taking several copies of the Bible he cut out the teachings of Christ he most admired, threw out the parts of the story he couldn’t believe and made for himself what today is known as the Jefferson Bible – a version which of course leaves out the resurrection.
The Pharisees were worried though – worried that if people heard about an empty tomb that “the last deception would be worse than the first” so Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.” They were all worried that people would believe he had risen from the dead, but I’ve never been in a church where people were so easily convinced.
There are parts of the Apostle’s Creed that some just don’t say – some have trouble with the part about “I believe in the holy catholic church,” afraid that they are confessing faith in the Roman Catholic Church, which actually isn’t true – catholic here is just another world for universal; the other difficult part of the creed being, “he descended into hell, on the third day he rose again from the dead.”
If you can’t say it, you can’t say it. There’s integrity in that. But if you can’t say it, if you can’t believe it, I’m afraid you’re missing out on something that can change your life.
I know it’s hard to believe that good triumphs over evil – that Christ has won the ultimate victory over death – that the tomb is not the end but the beginning – the grave transformed to a womb of new life. We live in a world where it sometimes seems as though it just can’t be true.
I read the paper. I know what it’s like out there. A year later, oil still haunts the gulf. The families who lost a loved one when the Deepwater Horizon offshore platform exploded still have a hole in their hearts and not enough money in their pockets to pay the bills, while BP, Halliburton, Transocean, and Cameron International sue each other over who has the most blood on their hands.
A full 2/3rds of high school graduates can’t find a job, while only about 2/3rds of recent college graduates can – and as if this lack of jobs weren’t sad enough, young people out of work, I think we all know someone with plenty of experience, plenty of skill, who is without the opportunity to use the gifts that God has given them to support themselves and their family.
And here it is – just a couple days past Earth Day. Not that I did anything special, but how does Capitol Hill celebrate conservation, reducing waste, and recycling – they bring back Styrofoam to the cafeteria.
Maybe not as big a deal as the other two – but you can just substitute drone attacks, mounting national debt, reducing Medicare, three ongoing wars, struggling to escape Guantanamo Bay, – when it comes to Capitol Hill there’s something for everybody to be depressed about. Taking into account the world as it is – empty tomb or no empty tomb – it’s not hard to go through life believing that nothing is getting better, sin is winning, and the only thing to do is enjoy life as much as we can because the end is coming and there’s nothing we can do about it.
In a way, that’s what the women were thinking. He’s gone, but we can still pay our respect at least. We can still go to see the tomb.
But he wasn’t there, and on the way to tell the disciples who weren’t expecting him to really rise from the dead either – if the disciples did they weren’t doing anything about it – so on their way to tell the disciples that the tomb was empty the women saw him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. And then Jesus said, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
There they will see me, he said.
It was Thursday morning. Our daughter Lily’s teacher at the King’s Daughter’s school, our own Ellen Ludwig, invited us to the Easter Egg hunt. Lily was with me and wouldn’t let me put her down so she went the whole hunt with an empty basket. A tiny little girl named Angel noticed – took all the eggs from her basket and put them into Lily’s.
There they will see me, he said.
“Twelve steps weren’t nearly enough for Richard Remus, but maybe 10 million will do,” I read on the front page of the paper last week. “Remus, a former methamphetamine addict, wanted to show his friends who were addicted to meth how much he cared for them. So he started walking.” “If I can walk 5,000 miles in the hopes of helping one person, what can you do with a little hope?” Remus has scrawled on a yellow rain jacket draped over his backpack. He walked through our town just last Wednesday.
There they will see me, he said.
But what’s more is that last week, next week, and the week after that, in the old building our church owns across from the library there will be between 130 and 200 children who will receive afterschool care thanks to the Boys and Girls Club, and should the teachers there suspect that there won’t be any food on the table over the weekend then they’ll send food home in that child’s backpack.
And just last Friday at least a hundred people who might have gone without lunch if it weren’t for the members of our church who were willing to cook – because of them a whole crowd ate a good free meal at the People’s Table right across the street like they can every Tuesday night and every Friday at 11:30 absolutely free.
There they will see me, he said.
If you haven’t seen him – if you haven’t seen him alive and among us – still transforming this old world that so badly needs his healing grace – then open your eyes – don’t be afraid – come to the table and hear the words that will transform our world, our community, and your heart – take and eat – this is my body broken for you.
There they will see me, he said.
Thanks be to God, there they will see me.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Who is This?

Matthew 21: 1-11, page 23
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them. And he will send them immediately.”
This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet saying,
“Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
Humble, and mounted on a donkey,
And on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
At different times in life, the same story can take on a different meaning.
Never before this point in my life have I read Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem according to Matthew with such clarity. I realize that Matthew is telling us not that Christ rides on two animals as verse 7 says: “they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.” Matthew is trying to tell us, not knowing the word, that Christ rides into the Holy City on the offspring of a donkey and a colt – he just didn’t know the Greek word for mule.
Wishful thinking - as here a colt is the foal of a donkey, so our gospel lesson has Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and a young donkey – that he might fulfill to the very letter the prophesy: “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Christ is so intent on letting the crowds know who he is and why he enters the city that he lives the prophet’s words exactly.
And it works – the crowds know who he is – “Save us” they cry, as they cushion his path with their coats and palm branches not wanting his steeds’ hooves to touch the ground.
The scene is so joyful and full of anticipation that the crowd’s reaction makes me think of Lily’s face when one of her grandmothers walks through the door.
I used to be that way with my grandmother too when I was Lily’s age. When I would spend the day with Mimi it would be a day of making bows and arrows, watching her paint, playing in creeks, and digging around in her basement.
As soon as I saw her face I knew to anticipate something wonderful.
But then, when I was 11 or 12 she had a stroke and her visits took work – struggling for conversation, not knowing what to say, helping her to stand, embarrassed for my friends to come over.
I look back now on the months that she lived with us with powerful regret, knowing I never valued our time together. I didn’t know what to do, and I was sad that she wasn’t who she was before the stroke.
Knowing that her visits, and eventually her coming to live with us, meant a change in my daily routine, I slowly started to resent her for the way she disrupted our lives I’m sorry to say – loading her in and out of the car, waiting for her to finish eating, not getting my parents’ full attention because she needed them more than I did.
I wasn’t in turmoil, but her presence in my life meant I had to change. I had to slow down, and I had to explain to my friends.
The jubilation that I greeted her with was gone – it didn’t last forever – because who she was to me changed.
Jubilation to turmoil.
Our lesson from Matthew begins with jubilation too – “Hosanna to the Son of David,” or “Save us Son of David, Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”
But our passage ends with the whole city in turmoil – and we know where the road leads from there – the crowd who celebrated him, who laid their very coats for his steeds to trample turn on him as who he is to them changes. He is no longer celebrated, no longer represents to them a liberator, as they call out to Pilate: “Crucify him!”
From jubilation to turmoil, from “Save us Son of David,” to “Crucify him.”
It’s amazing how things change so quickly – but when we see someone as a savior we react to them in one way and if we see them as a burden we react to them another way – and Christ may well be a Savior one day and a burden the next – it all depends on the day and the time.
When we need his forgiveness and we know we need it we greet him with jubilation.
But when he knows we need to change but we aren’t so ready he is a burden.
When he calls us to celebrate who we are we greet him with singing.
But when he calls us to confess our sins, to name them to ourselves and the ones we have hurt we would rather turn away.
When we know that he has come to save us we are more than ready to follow.
But when we see that the road to salvation leads to the cross we hear ourselves deny him.
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?”
He is all these things and more, and that makes him not a simple savior.
He offers forgiveness, but you must be ready to change.
He sees you and loves you for who you are, but you must be ready to do the same.
And he does bring salvation to the world, but to walk this road to salvation you must be ready to face the cross.
The cost of discipleship is high, but he rides into the city for you – that you would know him and see him for who he is – God incarnate; the Holy one of Israel; the one who lays down his life that you might live.
Thanks be to God.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Surely we are not blind, are we?

John 9: 1-41, page 102
As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.
The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.”
He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.”
They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.”
Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.”
But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”
The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?”
His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.”
His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age, ask him.”
So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?”
Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.”
The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.
Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.”
Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.”
He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”
Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?”
Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘we see,’ your sin remains.
I used to play second base and one game when I was in high school I was running back for a pop fly and collided with the right fielder. I woke up with my coach standing over me who said, “Are you hurt or are you injured,” a question which would have been confusing even had I not just been knocked unconscious. When I stood up someone else yelled, “Rub some dirt on it and keep playing.”
That’s something baseball players say, though I don’t believe it has any effective results to just rub dirt on something.
Some people do believe that dirt has medicinal qualities however. I heard a story once about a Gullah woman who saved her dog’s life by burying it in the pluff mud of the South Carolina Coast. The Gullah people are descendants of slaves and their communities did the best job of preserving African culture out of all the slave communities in our country, so maybe there is something to the healing affects of mud, but I’m not so sure, so it’s interesting that Jesus here uses mud to heal a blind man.
There are the numerous instances of Jesus healing the blind. In Matthew he heals two blind men by touching their eyes, and then in Mark he uses a little saliva, but not mud, causing us to wonder if that dirt is not necessary for the miracle to take effect.
But if the mud’s not for healing, if Jesus doesn’t need the mud to heal this man’s blindness – then Christ is using the mud for something else – to draw attention to the spiritual blindness that keeps all those who think they can see in the dark.
Christ in today’s passage, “spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes” not to heal the man, Christ doesn’t need mud to heal – he deliberately works, mixes dirt on the Sabbath to make a statement about working on the Sabbath.
He uses the mud to point to the human ability to unquestionably hold to traditions and ideas even after they have become wrongheaded and foolish.
Not that I don’t like mules, already I’ve found that I love them, but we all just saw yesterday how we can revere and celebrate an animal that few of us really need anymore – we do it because we always have and it’s fun, but beyond that we don’t know why and we don’t wonder why.
The same was true for the Pharisees, but they weren’t able to laugh at themselves about it because their fun parade had turned into the fool-proof dividing line between right and wrong saying, “this man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.” They were blinded to the foolishness of this – and they were blinded to the idea that it might be wrong to put more emphasis on doing nothing on the Sabbath than on doing right on the Sabbath.
They were so blinded to their own foolishness that they thought they would be able to tell God when God shows up based on observing the Sabbath, all the while God stood right there before them but they decided to keep on waiting.
But this isn’t as strange as it sounds.
We know what we don’t know, and we know that what we don’t know is a whole lot in comparison to what we do, so we have to hold tight to those things that we can be absolutely sure of because there simply aren’t that many to be absolutely sure of.
So even though Libya is a complicated issue, even though an air strike may do more harm than good and may even result in a third war to further stretch our troops and our resources, our President has to present as though he’s sure he’s done the right thing. He has to be sure of this one decision and hold onto that certainty tightly, unfailingly, as his opponents will chew him up and spit him out if he doubts himself now. Human life is being spent, and while I’m not very certain he’s gone and done the right thing, he has to be sure he’s absolutely right about this.
The best bet, the most secure bet sometimes is to do that, to hold tightly to those things that we are sure of, that we have to be sure of, rather than give in to the reality that we are completely blind – out of touch – misinformed and under informed, that we can never be quite sure about who we are, how God works, and how this world that we live in operates.
Many though are sure about one thing or another – the Creationists are sure they know how the world was created and won’t question their certainty, especially not around the Evolutionists who are sure that the Creationists don’t know a thing about it.
And the Pharisees don’t know when the Messiah will come, what he will look like, and what he will do, but they are sure of this one thing – that when he does come he certainly won’t be doing any work on the Sabbath – that they think they can know for sure.
But even in their knowing of this one little thing – even in their certainty about this one aspect of who God is and what God does, they have run the risk of putting God in a box and our God is abundantly reluctant to be placed in a box.
The Pharisees didn’t make an idol, they didn’t claim to know everything about God – they were smarter than that, they were certainly better Bible scholars than that. They knew that Moses met God and that the only description God would offer for Godself was, “I am who I am,” so they knew better to box God in – that’s idolatry after all – boxing God in and thinking we know who God is, what God does, who God loves, and who God doesn’t love.
We don’t want to be idolaters, and neither did the Pharisees, but we also don’t want to let go of those things that we are sure of – and for the Pharisees, they were sure that God would not do work on the Sabbath.
They couldn’t let go of that - seeing even a little is better to not being able to see at all, so we convince ourselves that maybe we are in the dark about most things, but I can see enough to get around – getting around is better than being blind so I can’t give up my little glimmer of light, my small certainty that I hold dear.
So we don’t claim to know what God looks like, but surely God wouldn’t work on the Sabbath.
We aren’t so bold to judge, but surely their life-style is wrong.
And I won’t claim to know the will of God – but this is right – it’s just right and that’s all there is to it.
The problem here is that if you can know, even a little thing for sure – you need faith that much less – if you can see, even a little bit – you start to think you don’t need to be healed from your blindness – but those who are sure they can’t see have a tremendous need to trust the one who is beyond their understanding.
Compared to the Pharisees this blind man didn’t know his Bible, maybe he had memorized a few hymns from hearing them sung so many times, but he didn’t know what the Pharisees knew.
In our lesson he offers us all the knowledge that he possessed: “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”
When it comes to our God there isn’t a whole lot to know – so a blind man invites us to lay down those certainties that we have been carrying around for too long that we might really see. Lay down our certainty that we know who is right and who is wrong to make room for the chance that we might just be wrong about them – whoever they are; lay down our certainty about forgiveness – who can have it and who can’t to make room for the chance that forgiveness can even be given to him or her, even when he or she hurt us that deeply; lay down our certainty about knowing why or how to make room for the chance to learn that our God is even more bold, more ground breaking, more radical than we ever imagined.
When you get right down to it, God won’t be confined to our understanding, but build your faith on this – that God took human form – and when God saw a man blind from birth God gave him sight and when God saw a bunch of people who thought they were better than everyone else God made them look foolish.
This is the one in whom the blind man put all his trust.
If you want to see you will lay down your certainty and do the same.